The magic word to make conflicts more manageable

Have you ever called out a colleague or team member for doing something wrong?  You expected an apology, or at least acknowledgement of their error.  But instead they tried to prove YOU were wrong and they were right?

That’s what happened to Michelle.

Michelle was not happy with her business partner.  While at an industry conference, he purchased an expensive training program.  She did not find out about the purchase until she was doing the monthly accounting and saw the credit card statement.  

This was just another in a long line of purchases her partner Marco made without consulting her. Michelle called Marco into her office and let him have it.

“How could you spend that much on a training program?  And without even consulting me?  How can you be so disrespectful? That’s my money too!  We’re super tight on money this month and you’re spending a fortune on training we don’t even need!”

Did Marco apologize?  See the error in his ways?  You probably already guessed that’s not how he reacted.

“What are you…my mother?  I have to check in with you for every penny I spend?  Guess what, it’s MY money, too!” Marco said while going red in the face. The meeting went downhill from there.

Does this situation sound familiar?  All too often in conflicts each side is dug in, trying to prove they are right and the other person is wrong.  This creates a “push against” scenario where each side is focused on winning vs. actually solving the problem.

What’s the magic word that can help de-escalate conflict?

If you want to make conflicts less contentious and more productive, use the word perspective. The magic of the word perspective is it helps mitigate the “I’m right, you’re wrong” dynamic of confrontations.

What would have happened if Michelle had used the word perspective?

Michelle: “Marco.  I want to talk to you about this training program you bought.  You didn’t consult me.  It was a lot of money. From my perspective, that felt disrespectful.  We’re in this business together.  And money is tight this month.”

Now, Marco still might have a bad reaction.

Marco:  “What, I have to check in with you for every penny I spend?”

Michelle:  “Not every penny, but from my perspective, this was a big chunk of money. Can you walk me through your thinking on why you bought the training?  I’d like to hear your perspective on our financial situation.  I’m not sure we’re on the same page.”

Move to a framework that acknowledges personal experience

Rarely is any situation black and white.  We all bring our own life experience and perspective to situations and decisions.  We see the world through our own lens. 

Conflict arises when we do not understand why someone said or did something. We assign them reasons and motivations that are often wrong.   

That disconnect comes from the fact that we are looking at the same situation, but from our own perspective.

Framing your position as your “perspective” vs. a stated fact makes it harder to argue against. 

So the next time you are in a confrontation or conflict, instead of going into an “I’m right, you’re wrong” framework, start with this phrase:

“You and I may have different perspectives on this.”  Share your perspective and be open to hearing theirs.  It may make those conflicts easier to resolve.

Holly Buchanan

Holly Buchanan

Holly Buchanan is the author of Selling Financial Services to Women – What Men Need to Know and Even Women Will Be Surprised to Learn. She is the co-author of The ... Web: Details